Fracking in Canada: time to embrace the controversial procedure?

Steve Mertl
Daily BrewJune 14, 2012

If you're getting tired of the wrangling over oil sands development and its impact on the Canadian economy (Dutch disease, anyone?), get ready for a new round of wrangling over fracking.

That's short for hydraulic fracturing, a method used to free natural gas trapped in sedimentary shale deep beneath the ground.

Supporters say it promises decades of clean-burning gas supplies that could help ease the transition away from oil, but opponents say it's the environment and especially water supplies that will get fracked.

[ Related: Ex-PC MLA denounces fracking as 'dangerous experiment' ]

Fracking has become very contentious in parts of the United States, where its been championed by President Barack Obama as an important component in energy independence and security.

But environmentalists want the drilling method banned, arguing the large quantities of chemically-treated water used to break up the rock are irreversibly polluted. Injecting that water back into the ground also causes earthquakes, opponent Kristin Lynch argued in the Long Beach Press-Telegram.

"Fracking needs to be banned entirely," Lynch wrote.

As Lynch pointed out, fracking is not new. It's been used for decades to wring the last recoverable barrel of oil or thousand cubic feet of gas from wells nearing the end of their productive life.

"But a more destructive method of fracking has recently come into practice that involves injecting thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals and millions of gallons of fresh water at high pressure to break apart rocks to extract oil and gas," Lynch wrote.

France's senate voted to ban fracking in 2011 and Bulgaria maintains a ban on fracking for production, though it recently relaxed the rules to allow it for exploratory drilling.

[ Related: Bulgaria relaxes ban on controversial gas drilling method ]

Alberta, British Columbia and New Brunswick are considered potentially productive places for natural gas fracking.

NDP leader Thomas Mulcair has accused the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers of trying to make the rules covering fracking sound tougher than the really are, the Calgary Herald reported.

Mulcair, who's been a prominent critic of Alberta's oil sands projects, visited the province recently and said the association gave him "a lovely brochure" explaining guidelines for companies to account for fracking fluid.

Mulcair said that when he challenged the oil man that companies weren't following the rules, the industry official said the association couldn't force them.

"That representative of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers was out here pulling a con job, trying to make people believe that somehow they were regulating, somehow they had rules that were going to mean something," Mulcair said.

Association vice-president Tom Huffaker conceded the guidelines on reporting the contents of fracking fluid are voluntary, not government regulation.

Alberta Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk called Mulcair's remarks "purely politically motivated," and said that information about fracking is publicly available, the Herald reported.

[ More Daily Brew: Murderer Russell Williams files to have victim pay his legal bills ]

Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente said it's time for Canada to jump on board the fracking bandwagon.

"All new technologies have problems, and fracking is no exception," she wrote Thursday. "Some things have gone wrong, and no doubt other things will too. ... The real issue is whether the risks can be managed, and whether the public thinks the risks are worth the rewards. ... Our energy needs are forecast to grow by another 15-20 per cent over the next few years. And it seems to me that tapping into a supply of cleaner, greener, abundant and reliable energy is a no-brainer."

[ More Daily Brew: Pure ecstasy is safe, should be in stores: B.C. health official ]